In China, religious positions have always been controlled very closely. In this lavishly photographed story, set in a Buddhist monastery during the Ming Dynasty (14th-17th centuries), the monastery is in turmoil, wondering who the government is going to appoint as its next abbot. A number of outside dignitaries have been invited for the announcement and enthronement of the next abbot, and the tensions in the monastery are only heightened when one of these guests steals a venerated sutra from the Mahayana canon of Buddhist scriptures.~Clarke Fountain
16-page booklet with a new essay by New York Asian Film Festival Executive Director Samuel Jamier
Audio Commentary by critic and Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns
Treasure of the Spirit A new video essay by Chinese-language film expert and author Stephen Teo
remastered 1979 martial arts film by King Hu, Raining in the Mountain showcases beautiful natural scenery, the marvel of a Buddhist temple, and colorfully costumed characters opposite monastery monks in monochromatic attire. While there are a few well executed martial arts scenes, most of the movie involves political intrigue at the monastery where even the monks get involved.
During the Ming Dynasty, the reigning Abbot decides to find his replacement and invites several guests to the temple to advise him on choosing a successor: the district governor General Wang (Tien Fung), a businessman Esquire Wen (Sun Yueh), and a scholar Master Wu Wai (Wu Chia-Hsiang). Coincidentally, a convict arrives at the monastery to fulfill his penance by becoming a monk. General Wang is accompanied by Lieutenant Chang Cheng (Chen Hui-Lou), and, Wen is attended by a supposed concubine White Fox (Hsu Feng) and an assistant Gold Lock (Wu Ming-Tsai). It soon becomes apparent that General Wang and Esquire Wen have largely come to the temple in order to steal a valuable handwritten Tripitaka scroll. Much of the movie involves White Fox and Gold Lock trying to find and steal the scroll while evading or fighting off Lieutenant Cheng who also seeks to acquire the scroll for General Wang. There is a lot of running, hiding, jumping, and stealing back and forth.
Meanwhile, the Abbot is determined to find the best suited monk for the head position and finally decides to select an outsider to replace him; the Abbot chooses the previously convicted criminal and convert to the monastery. More scheming ensues as the monks are unhappy with the Abbot’s choice, but the new Abbot is able to smoothly handle each conflict. In the end, the culprit is captured and the Abbot meets out justice in a unique way. Bonus features include an essay by Samuel Jamier, Executive Director of the New York Asian Film Festival and audio commentary by critic and Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns. With great choreography, superb art design, unique sound, and interesting characters, this film is very entertaining, though a little long. Recommended.